hothouse flowers

You know it’s going to be a good night when the pass-out stamp they use on your wrist reads ‘Jesus loves you’.

I’d been hanging out to see these guys for so long, since I heard back in January that they were touring, so the anticipation was intense, doubled by U2’s postponement.

The crowd was pretty much exactly what I suspected they would be; mostly thirty-somethings who haven’t done the live show thing for a few years now so look slightly uncomfortable about being at the Corner Hotel; plus a handful of fifty-somethings re-living the last band they listened to before getting too old. It was kind of weird standing up the front with some grey-haired people, although less so when the bassist has the most grey hair of anyone in the room (although admittedly his reaches down to his shoulders). Still, I must say, it didn’t take me long to get over the age thing. Just standing there singing familiar words with people is enough to realise that music transcends age, stage, or anything else.

The first band was The Live Room, HF’s fellow Irish band, and they were really pretty good. Very tight musically but a little bit underdeveloped songwriting-wise.

Second band (Shane Howard) was a strange choice for the second support act, but he was introduced and backed up on didgeridoo by Liam O’Maonlai (HF lead singer). Basically Shane plays folk protest songs (read: predictable left-wing diatribes), so it just seemed a strange mix of mood.

Then HF came out just after 10, and played till…well, after 12 sometime. I didn’t take notes of the setlist, so it’s definitely approximate, although the first 5 songs or so are right.

Hallelujah: A good upbeat one to kick it off, I think from the new album.
Be Good (Wholly Loving Eyes): This is one of my favourites of theirs, with the refrain “Be good, be kind, be wholesome and be free/And keep your wholly loving eyes on me”.
Give It Up: I was really hoping they’d play this one, and there it was, bam, third song out. Really had the crowd on their feet.
Forever More: This one is off one of the albums I don’t have, so didn’t recognise it.
This Is It (Your Soul): Funky as. Finished with the repeated refrain, handed to the audience of “Let the light inside shine from the inside out”. Actually, the crowd had to be prompted by Fiachna O’Braonain (guitarist), which was a little awkward. Over the rest of the night people just assumed that was what they wanted us to do, meaning most songs stretched out to 7-8 minutes or longer.
Magic Bracelets: Liam mentioned that this one was dedicated to some reggae guy who he said was the godfather of reggae (he was a voice coach for The Wailers). Halfway through this song I realised that a lot of people around me knew the words, and it turns out it’s off the new album, so there are clearly some hardcore HF fans in Melbourne.
I Can See Clearly: Everyone had been waiting for it, of course. Even though it’s a cover, their version defines the song for most people. I’d say it wasn’t a particularly searing rendition (they invited some girl up on stage to sing it with them, and I’ll never know why – she did nothing), but it wouldn’t have been the same had they not played it.
Hallelujah Jordan: Oh. my. goodness. I wasn’t disappointed with this version – probably the highlight of the show for me. He even did “Hallelujah loves the bottle/More brittle than her body/More brittle than the heart that she’d broken yeah” with just the guitar and his voice sung out to the crowd, no microphone. In the recorded version, that’s the climax of the song, and it still was here, but in a quiet way that made it all the more powerful.
You Can Love Me Now: More funk. Driving beat. Single-worthy material.
Don’t Go: Apparently this song was originally written with a kind of samba beat, and that’s how they played it. It actually changes the whole mood of the song, from a wistful but upbeat breakup song to a playful invitation, like someone at a party urging their friend to hang around a bit longer. “don’t go/ don’t leave me now, now, now/while the sun smiles/stick around and laugh a while”. They introduced the band at this point too, and had solos from each, which meant this song went for about 15 minutes (or more even).

Encore:
After what seemed like forever (I was pretty convinced they wouldn’t come out again, and was torn between being happy with what had been and being disappointed they didn’t think it was worth coming out again) they did do an encore. Actually for an encore, it was pretty darn long; about another third of the show in fact.
Celtic song: Liam and Fiachna came out by themselves first and Fiachna sang this song a capella. He has this amazing, nasal deep voice. It was great for me to realise that this is the kind of music my ancestors listened to, sang along to, played, Cornish being closer to Irish language than Saxon (English).
One Tongue: So appropriate after the different language previously. It’s a peace song essentially, urging people to get together and communicate. I could post the whole song’s lyrics, but instead I’ll just leave the link.
Your Love Goes On: As gospel as it gets: the refrain ‘Your love goes on and on’ really did go on and on. Probably a bit long really, because it’s a great song; the first song (and single) off the new album.
Celtic song: Another Celtic song, but this time with Fiachna on a little tin whistle flute and Liam on one of those handheld drum things they just hit with their hands. Sounded incredible – the amount of different sounds he managed to get out of that drum shows the calibre of musician he is.
Sweet Marie: Some would call this song boring: I call it hauntingly beautiful, and their version on this particular night leant far more in the latter direction.
I’m Sorry: Great way to go out, on a high. It’s a really upbeat song, despite the words.

Liam is an absolutely incredible performer, and his dancing is just awesome. When he came out from behind the keyboard, as he did maybe 4 or 5 times over the night, he just danced with all his might, with complete abandon. Amazing. And they’re clearly mature and accomplished musicians, quite apart from their songs as a band.

To be honest, I think I was just rapt to be out listening to live music, and a band I respect and admire greatly. I drank it in like a dehydrated person would a bottle of iced water. Hopefully it’ll keep me hydrated until November…

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